One of the things I was struggling against in the few years I was a councillor and a blogger was the interpretation of the law on what constitutes a political use of council resources.
You may have sensed my frustration in the interview I gave Michael Cross where I was trying to get away from the position where I had 2 websites that needed tending and care. The electorate have kindly relieved me of that burden, but I feel the need to fight on for those who are less fortunate.
Andrew Milton gives me the lowdown on the latest stupidity:
Lewisham Council provides webpages for its councillors, including me. But it won’t allow any political stuff on it. Nor would it allow any links to sites with political stuff. However, it will allow links to non-political sites which happen to have links to political sites.
Now, the law that is being used to justify this position is there for a good reason – we don’t want “politics on the rates” – but it wasn’t designed for the digital age.
Having a link to a website that an individual councillor maintains at their own expense, and in their own time, seems to me to be considerably different to allowing them to run off ward newsletters on the photocopier.
There is guidance on this very subject from the the Local e-Democracy National Project:
Although the interpretation of the law is not clear-cut, the established practice of a number of councils is to provide these links, but in a way that clearly distances the political site from the council one. The website user following such a link from the council website is not taken immediately to the external site, but first sees a screen of disclaimer information drawing their attention to the fact that they are leaving the council site and that the council does not support the information they will see subsequently. The user must register their acceptance before proceeding to the external site.
We know that we’re electing politicians when we vote, we know they’ve got political views when they speak and make decisions, and we know that we’ve got them over a barrel if they don’t live up to the code of conduct.
Lewisham Council ought to trust us – the electorate – and their politicians a bit more than they do.
I hope that Andrew, John, Paul, Sue, Hilary and Simon will make common cause on this and demand that they are able to link directly to their individual political websites, so that more of us read their thoughts and question them about their decisions.
Update – John has a plan.